November 23, 2014

MAIDAN-e-JUNG - Part III

THE ISSUES

The state of Jammu Kashmir will see elections being conducted to the state assembly in five phases starting from November 25th to December 20th considering the volatile political scenario here. Two days before voting begins, it is but clear that the race is between the PDP and the BJP. The Congress and its erstwhile partner - the NC are facing the heat and are unlikely to pose any serious challenge to the two main contenders. Here is a look at the issues that could decide who will win the upcoming elections in India's northern most state.

After ruling Jammu Kashmir for the last six years in coalition, the National Conference (NC) and the Congress are facing massive anti-incumbency. As the polls are coming closer, there has been an exodus of high profile names from both these outfits. NC's candidate from Anantnag - Mehboob Baig whose family has had deep ties with the Abdullahs in the past has backed out from his contest against PDP chief Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. Another senior NC leader Sheikh Ghulam Rasool who was instrumental in CM Omar Abdullah's victory from Ganderbal constituency in 2008 too has joined the Muftis. Meanwhile, Ajatshatru Singh - the scion of the royal family of Jammu Kashmir has joined the BJP. In a major blow to the NC, former CM and Omar's dad Farooq will not be campaigning for the party as he is unwell. In the Congress camp, two of its biggest leaders - Saifudin Soz and Ghulam Nabi Azad are believed to be reluctant to contest polls. The many corruption scandals that have rocked the Omar regime in its present term and devastation caused by the floods this September have only made the matters worse.

The Armed Forces Special Power's Act (AFSPA) which has been imposed in the state since 1990s is an emotive issue here and there is a growing clamor to do away with it. Over the years, a large section of the populace in Kashmir and several international organizations have slammed the Indian government for using such a draconian law to suppress the people in the region. The unfortunate death of two youths from Budgam in firing in Chattergam on 3rd November has reignited the whole debate regarding this Act in spite of the army accepting that the whole incident was a mistake. The two major state parties - the NC as well as the People's Democratic Party (PDP) have always opposed it and are likely to raise this issue in the days to come to gather support while the national outfits see it as a 'necessary evil'. Closely related to the AFSPA is the demand for more autonomy for J&K. Interestingly, the BJP which was vocal in its opposition to Article 370 granting special status to the state during the General Elections has refrained from talking about it.

It is believed that when the fourth Mughal Emperor Jehangir came to the Kashmir valley, he was so enamored by its beauty that he equated it to the heavens. It is such a pity that today, the valley has been infested with Pakistan based terror groups intent on forcefully snatching it from India. Even in the past, infiltrators who do not believe in the democratic process have called for a boycott and a strike on the day of the polls. The separatists too have asked the people to stay away from exercising their right to chose their representatives. It will be a big challenge for our security forces and the Election Commission to make sure that the elections are conducted peacefully and the militants do not succeed in their evil designs.

To be Continued...